What about the non-historical data in the Gospel accounts?


It’s not secret that many have argued that the gospels contain non-historical information. Of course, if one is a naturalist then it is very likely that he would deny that Jesus really healed people from sicknesses and raised people from the dead. Similarly the skeptic would try and argue that the resurrection never occurred and that it therefore must be non-historical data. For the purposes of this challenge we shall assume the skeptics position.

Notable examples of non-historical data that skeptics produce concerns Jesus’ birth and the tax that was imposed on the people when Jesus was still a baby by Caesar Augustus. Likewise Bart Ehrman, for example, has identified an episode concerning Pontius Pilate where Pilate allows the Jewish crowd to choose who was to be condemned. Their options were either Jesus or a criminal named Barabbas. However, the crowd condemned Jesus over Barrabas. The point being is that it is alleged that this episode is historically unlikely given the nature of Roman law and society, as argues Ehrman: “This scene, like the census, almost certainly didn’t happen.”

However, that this event did not occur, in other words, that the author made it up does not impact the traditional Christian apologetic for the resurrection of Jesus. The point being is that the gospels do agree on many details and historians can be quite confident that the named events did, historically, occur. Apologetics wise, apologists have identified a bedrock of facts that all professional historians agree to. This is what is known as the “minimal facts approach.” This is a term coined by philosopher and exegete Gary Habermas who has sifted through some 3400 articles by scholars in the relevant fields. The four bedrock facts that he found scholars agreeing on where the following:

Fact 1 –  That Jesus was crucified on a Roman cross (accepted by all scholars).
Fact 2 – That Jesus was buried in a tomb. (accepted by all scholars)
Fact 3 – That three days later the tomb was found empty. (accepted by 67 to 75%)
Fact 4- That Jesus’ 12 disciples, James and Paul experienced the risen Jesus(accepted by all scholars)

This considered it doesn’t really matter if the Pontius Pilate episode really happened, or if there really was a tax imposed by Caesar Augustus when Jesus was still a baby. In terms of the Minimal Facts these non-historical narratives do not undermine them.


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